However don't expect the high-powered explosive attack that Ian Shields directed at Cal Poly as offensive coordinator just yet. This spring shows that Army still lacked the playmakers to make this offense fire on all cylinders. Let's look how the Black Knights triple option offense currently shapes up after spring practice.
Trent Steelman (No. 8) is firmly entrenched as starting quarterback. Steelman became the first Army freshman to start the entire season at quarterback. He showed himself to be a tough, quick runner. He was able to effectively read the defense and run the option. In spring practice he demonstrated natural leadership instincts. His passing, which may had been affected by a rib injury suffered in the opener against Eastern Michigan, was his only drawback as he completed 49.1 % of his passes. This spring he looked a lot more confident throwing the ball. On the second offensive series in the Black & Gold game he threw a nice 26-yard pass for a touchdown. Steelman is the offense's most important player and needs to stay healthy.
Senior Chip Bowden (No. 10) , last year's backup, missed spring practice as he recovers from off season knee surgery. He should be ready this fall. Three juniors Max Jenkins, Jimmy Reitter and Taylor Hall split the bulk of the snaps in his absence. Jenkins (No. 14), who missed the spring game after the tragic passing of his father, was praised by coach Ellerson. Jenkins isn't very fast and his main strength is his understanding of the offense and ability to execute the correct reads. Reitter (No. 4) and Hall (No. 17) both have limitations and will likely be bypassed on depth chart by the incoming quarterback recruits.
Jared Hassin (No. 34), the Air Force transfer, has established himself as the starting fullback. The 6-3, 218 pound sophomore has shown himself to be a bruiser with good speed. Hassin only had one carry and a catch in the B&G game but he was impressive throughout camp. Pat Mealy said of Hassin "Jared is going to be a great player. The defense is going to have to key on him. It's going to help the other backs be productive, as well as us helping him be productive."
Jacob Bohn (No. 37), a converted 5-9, 215 senior linebacker won the backup fullback job with his hard-nosed running style. CeDarius Williams (No. 36), last years opening day starter, has slipped to third on the depth chart. Williams was hurt in last season's opener and missed the rest of the season. Williams didn't show the burst that he had before the injury. He may need the summer to regain his health. Last years JV quarterback David Collins (No. 19) has been moved to fullback and is still learning the position.
Same old, same old. Rich Ellerson's earnest hope was that spring practice would produce a slotback who would show a little "magic" with the ball in their hands. Instead, Pat Mealy (No. 5) and Jameson Carter (No. 15) reestablished themselves as starters.
Pat Mealy is a hard worker, good blocker, runs hard in traffic and lacks only a second gear. He was the only slot back to average over five yards a carry (6.1). Jameson Carter is a long strider who isn't very physical or explosive but blocks well in space. Carter was the most productive slotback in the Black & Gold game gaining 30 yards on 4 carries.
Behind them are five sophomores but no one has emerged to challenge the starters. Malcolm Brown (new uniform No. 9) is a 5-11, 180 slot back and the most talented of the plebes that saw action last year. Brown spent some time at wide receiver before returning to slotback at the end of camp. Brown has good hands and above average speed but needs to learn his assignments and cut down on the mental mistakes that plagued him last year. He did a nice job at wide receiver and may be utilized more on passing downs.
Lonnie Liggins (No. 21) started out well in camp but once again missed time with another injury. Liggins isn't a speedster but can contribute if he stays healthy. Brian Cobbs (No. 32) was moved to slotback from defensive back. Cobb, a former high school running back, can really run. He was impressive in practice but is still learning the position. Kelechi Odocha (No. 6) has okay quickness but is undersized. Brian Austin (No. 11) was moved from wide receiver to slotback. He caught a 40-yard touchdown pass in one scrimmage. Odocha and Austin are not ready to challenge the starters while Liggins, Brown and Cobb will see playing time from scrimmage unless bypassed by some of the incoming slotbacks from USMAPS.
Army track star senior Alfred McDaniel (new uniform No. 22) has the real speed this position needs. McDaniel is the two time Patriot League 100 meters champion and ran a Patriot League 60-meter dash meet record in 6.85 seconds this spring. However after having not played football since high school he looked rusty and was injured early last year. He missed spring ball as he focused on track. McDaniel is too small to be an every down back but with his speed he might be used as a change of pace home run threat.
"A" backs or slotbacks are supposed to make plays. Army starters simply lack the athleticism and speed needed to generate big plays. Without the slotbacks providing the big play "magic" Ellerson is searching for it will be difficult for this offense to reach it's full potential. The good news is that Ellerson first full recruiting class had a number of candidates that fit the bill. The bad news is all except Scott Jones will be at the prep school this year.
Davyd Brooks (No. 13), a 6-3, 200 junior, was the star of spring practice. Brooks ran precise routes, got open and caught the ball. On the first play in the Black & Gold game Brooks uncharacteristically dropped a thirty-yard pass from Steelman. Brooks rebounded nicely on the next series to catch a touchdown pass. Brooks is not a burner but gets open and seems to be Steelman's new go-to receiver.
Junior Austin Barr (No. 87), who at 6-4 has the size that offensive coordinator Ian Shield likes in his receivers, won the other starting job. There is a lack of depth and speed here. Kyler Martin (No. 80), who was recruited as a wide receiver then switched to Mike linebacker last year, has moved back to wide receiver. Martin ran the 60-meter hurdles for the Army track team and brings some speed to the position. George Jordan (No. 84) may be the most talented athlete among the receivers, however, he missed spring ball due to academics. Jordan looks to be back on track to play this fall but missed valuable practice reps. Senior Mark Allen (No. 85) provides depth.
Returning senior starters Zach Peterson (No. 57) and Seth Reed (No. 54) easily retained their spots at center and right guard respectfully. At left guard 6-4, 275 sophomore Frank Allen (No. 69) won the job with his physical play. Allen was very impressive in one on one drills and scrimmages. Senior Mikel Weich (No. 72) is finally healthy and will back him up. At left tackle returning starter junior Anzee Merzi (No. 73) kept his job.
With Jason Johnson (No. 67) recuperating from off season surgery juniors Mike McDermott (No. 68) and Brad Kelly (No. 78) spent time at both tackles and failed to impress. Sophomore Matt Vallanti (No. 58) a 6-3, 290 sophomore is a physical blocker who should contribute once he gains more experience. Joe Bailey (No. 56) who started three games last year has dropped on the depth chart. Sophomore Derek Bisgard (No. 64) has been converted from defensive tackle to the offensive line.
This is the area of the team that needs the most improvement. Last year they struggled with the scheme, missed cut blocks and never effectively established the fullback dive. The Black and Gold game results were not encouraging as they produced only 89 rushing yards on 29 attempts.
To win Army must run the ball more effectively. It starts with the line executing their blocks and establishing the midline option. Offensive line coaches Gene Mc Keehan and Bill Tripp have had very successful careers as triple option line coaches. They have to get the current group to play at a higher level. Without a big play dimension in the 2010 offense it's critical that the offensive line be able to open holes consistently so the offense can sustain drives.
Next ArmySports.com: A spring practice recap of the Army defense.